The problem about electing a president is that the head of state would be yet another politician, probably supported by one of the parties. We’d be faced with serious questions about what electoral system to use, we’d worry about what would almost certainly be a very low turnout, and the candidates could well be either very bland ex-ministers or else semi-celebrity politicians of the Ken and Boris type. What would the term of office be, and when would elections be held? Would the President be chosen at general election time, and so probably be of the governing party? Would it be a mid-term choice, probably of an old opposition figure? The more you think about these issues, the more you realise that we’d be replacing a system that works well and is popular with one that would be risky and might quickly become discredited.
Polly Toynbee gives Guardianistas their fix:
How close to religion it is, with all the same feudal imagery, God as Lord and sovereign, sovereign anointed by God, knelt before in a divine hierarchy of power ordained by laws too ineffable to explain. The tyranny of the monarchy lies not in its residual temporal power but in its spiritual power. It subjugates the national imagination, infantilising us with false imaginings and a bogus heritage of our island story. For as long as they rule over us, we are obedient servants, worshipping an ermine-wrapped fantasy of Englishness.
Philip Collins writes for The Times (which is, for now, not pay-walled as the paper’s Jubilee gift to the web):
The Diamond Jubilee will be a statement that this is a good country and we like living here. There is nothing trivial about this sentiment. Monarchy has managed to negotiate the transition from divine to secular by sublimating a longing to belong. This is about something more ancestral than the fickle flashbulbs of fame. These are deeply held intuitions that have become embodied in the dignified form of the Queen.
If republicanism is ever to stand against the tide that will engulf us his weekend it needs to satisfy these impulses too. Colourless, abstract republicanism needs its own patriotic street parties. It needs to tell its own national story, about why, in the end, this is a great country because of the liberties protected by parliamentary democracy, which, rather than hereditary aristocracy, is the real bequest of the British to the world.
Which is precisely the argument I made for a reformed, liberal blend of British patriotism earlier in the week.
I do get Gardner’s point. I really do. And despite my value-commitments to the contrary that it’s very easy to espouse on here, I do know that if I was faced with the call, it would be by no means easy to decide if I really want to demolish the basement of British political life.
I also wholeheartedly accept his characterisation of the Republican position. Toynbee writes as if the Queen really does carry legislative power, and it’s about much more than freeing ourselves from the shackles of mere metaphorical bonds. You can see why Tories get pissed off when she throws around words like ‘tyranny’ so easily. I’m obviously not with her on this. I do accept that achieving a Republic would be a mere symbolic liberal achievement, not a genuine victory for freedom analogous to toppling Gaddaffi.
And this really is nothing more than a high-minded liberal commitment to formal principle over and above any ‘petty’ concerns for pragmatics. There’s undoubtedly a tendency – which I share – to think that whether we end up with career politicians making crap Presidents is beside the point. At least we won’t arbitrarily have whoever is next in line in the House of Hanover. And that would have a value irrespective of and superior to its social impact. But I can simultaneously see, with relative ease, why arguments like that appear to so many to be bat-shit crazy. Why fix what ain’t broke indeed.